Vedic spirituality loses out in times of dishonesty
By M J Akbar
It is common knowledge that the best way to argue your case in Delhi is through a suitcase. The capital's punters can neither control their laughter nor restrain their envy at the news that you can find your way to 44 acres of prime land in Marxist Bengal through an ayurvedic massage. Napoleon remarked that an army marches on its stomach. Lenin's Bengali army also marches on its stomach, as long as it is prostrate.
While corruption in rising India has moved with internet speed into the 21st century, Kolkata's deals are still in the Vedic age. Land worth Rs 20 crores was, it seems, handed over to promoters of a cottage-style resort called Vedic Village on the edge of Bengal's capital for just Rs 1 crore. The process began in 1997; the promoters added to their expanse by purchasing adjoining plots from villagers through the usual means of a cheque placed in one hand while the other arm was being twisted. It took a disputed football match on August 23 this year for rural anger to explode into arson: this is Bengal. Facts began to rise from the ashes. The police discovered a cache of arms in the sylvan peace of Vedic spirituality, although 'discovery' might be too optimistic a word. There is little that the Calcutta Police does not know, even if there is little that it does about what it does know.
The acquired land included wakf property. The good news, then, is that Bengali corruption is transparently secular. The names involved - Abdur Rezzak Mollah, Manabendra Mukherjee (ministers in severe need of ayurvedic treatment), promoter Rajkishore Modi, Rashid Ali Mondal, Sibnath Banerjee, Nuruddin Gazi - are a hymn to Hindu-Muslim brotherhood. Greed is clearly the most powerful antidote to communalism: Death to capitalism! Long live greed! Greed is also non-partisan. An MLA from Mamata Banerjee's party has also been named, which might explain her silence. Trinamool and CPI(M) finally agree on something. Even Ms Banerjee, a spartan if ever there was one, cannot contest elections from the straw tower of an ashram.
Unsurprisingly, the local media, which for a decade had no time for investigations of its own, gave maximum play to ministerial ayurvedic treatment. Was the issue, then, greed or hypocrisy? In Delhi, where few claim to be paragons of personal virtue, the spa-story would have been a snigger on a news cycle. In Kolkata, it has wafted through innumerable conversations with that sardonic twitch that only a Bengali can manage to perfection.
Indian Marxists are trapped in a systemic flaw: hyper-honesty is inconsistent with ''bourgeois democracy''. The cost of a Lok Sabha election now runs into multiple millions. Political parties are not profit-earning corporations. Their overhand collections are a miniscule proportion of need; the balance is met by underhand arrangements. The CPI(M) tries a finesse through institutional collection, but even this needs middlemen. Money is a trading currency; there has to be a trade. Ministers get involved. Is it any surprise if this nexus extends to a periodic back-rub? Land is repeatedly at the centre of Bengal's controversies because traditional industry has been driven into the doldrums between stagnant management and self-centred unions. Since new arrivals like IT czars will not ladle out cash, the only value left to exploit is land. Land belongs either to institutions that can be manipulated, or insecure villagers who can be bullied into temptation.
Corruption is the preferred means of the get-rich-quick lobby (if the poor were corrupt, they would not remain poor). But is greed the only motivation? Greed is not India-specific. The extent of our venality may have a supplementary reason. We are, by temperament, a short-cut people. We do not like waiting for due process, whether in a project or towards a destination. Indian corruption could well find an explanation in Indian traffic. We instinctively seek a faster way, whether on a cow-clogged country lane or an incomplete super highway. The Indian driver does not believe in the sober limitations of take; he is a devotee of overtake. Cars do not create traffic jams; drivers with hyper libidos do.
The long cut is demeaning to the Indian ego. A Delhiwallah measures his importance by the number of short cuts he has wangled. A favour is a measure of both the benefactor's value and the beneficiary's influence. Some people wait till the last minute only to prove that time will wait for them.
The system creates hurdles since it knows that short-cutters will pay to cross them. Bribes feed the system; the system therefore knits a framework for bribes. A hundred rupees to a traffic cop climbs towards millions at the top. If you are really lucky, the ayurvedic massage comes free.